What’s a Good ACT Score in 2021?

When you’re applying to college, you want to know how you compare to other applicants at your dream schools. One factor colleges consider is your standardized test scores. Although most colleges have gone test-optional for this academic year, if you’ve had a chance to take the ACT, you’re probably asking yourself, “What’s a good ACT score?”

 

This answer depends on your definition of “good,” of course. We’ve broken down the different factors to consider, so you can decide for yourself.

 

What Is the Average ACT Score in 2021?

 

According to the National Norms for ACT Test Scores Reported During the 2020-2021 Reporting Year, ACT composite scores correlate to the following percentiles (with the 99th percentile indicating that you performed better than 99 percent of test-takers). 

 

Composite Score

Percentile

36

100

35

99

34

99

33

98

32

96

31

95

30

93

29

90

28

88

27

85

26

82

25

78

24

74

23

70

22

64

21

59

20

53

19

47

18

41

17

35

16

28

15

22

14

16

13

10

12

5

11

2

10

1

9

1

8

1

7

1

6

1

5

1

4

1

3

1

2

1

1

1

Mean

20.7

 

The subsection averages and correlated percentiles are as follows:

 

Score

English

Math

Reading

Science

36

100

100

100

100

35

99

99

98

99

34

96

99

96

98

33

94

98

94

97

32

92

97

91

96

31

91

96

89

95

30

89

94

86

93

29

88

93

84

92

28

86

91

82

90

27

84

88

80

88

26

82

84

77

85

25

79

79

74

82

24

75

74

71

77

23

71

70

66

71

22

65

65

61

64

21

60

61

55

58

20

55

58

50

51

19

49

54

44

45

18

45

49

39

39

17

41

42

34

32

16

37

33

29

26

15

32

21

24

19

14

25

11

19

14

13

19

4

14

4

12

15

1

10

7

11

11

1

5

4

10

7

1

3

3

9

3

1

1

1

8

2

1

1

1

7

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

Mean

20.1

20.4

21.2

20.6

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ACT College Readiness Benchmarks 2021

 

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks indicate a student’s “reasonable chance of success” in a credit-bearing, first-year college course at a typical institution. The ACT offers Benchmarks in six core subject areas linked to performance on corresponding ACT test scores. This year’s Benchmarks are:

 

ACT Test Score

College Courses

Benchmark

English

English Composition I

18

Mathematics

College Algebra

22

Reading

American History, Other History, Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, Economics

22

Science

Biology

23

STEM

Calculus, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Engineering

26

ELA

English Composition I, American History, Other History, Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, Economics

20

 

Learn more about ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

 

Basically, if you meet these benchmarks, you have a good chance of succeeding in a college class. Keep in mind, however, that these scores may not be enough to get you into your dream schools.

 

How to Set Your Target ACT Score

 

Different students have different strengths and abilities. Your target ACT score should depend on several factors, such as:

 

What’s Your Starting Point?

 

To determine where you’re starting from, take a practice test, simulating standard testing conditions, adhering to time constraints and the tools you’ll be able to have at your disposal during the real ACT. Score it and compare it to the corresponding percentiles. This will help you understand the score you might get without studying or preparation. 

 

If your score is low, don’t panic. Remember that this is without any preparation. You’ll be able to improve it by practicing; this is just your baseline. You’ll find tips on improving your score below.

 

What Colleges Do You Want to Attend?

 

Your target colleges also dictate your target score. Look at the chart below to find out the middle 50% ACT range at top universities. You should aim to be in the higher end of this range for your school — that is, above the 50th percentile of previously accepted students. For example, if the middle 50% range at a given school is 33-35, your composite score should be 34 or higher.

 

Bear in mind that changes in testing policies will affect your target score, such as the fact that many schools are test-optional due to COVID-19. Many schools also superscore, meaning that they’ll take your highest section scores from different test sittings to form a new composite score.

 

What Is the Average ACT at Top Schools?

 

Top 20 National Universities

 

University Name

US News Ranking

Middle 50% ACT Range

Princeton University

1

33-35

Harvard University

2

33-35

Columbia University

3

33-35

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

4

35-36

Yale University

4

33-35

Stanford University

6

32-35

University of Chicago

6

33-35

University of Pennsylvania

8

33-35

California Institute of Technology

9

35-36

Johns Hopkins University

9

33-35

Northwestern University

9

33-35

Duke University

12

33-35

Dartmouth College

13

32-35

Brown University

14

32-35

Vanderbilt University

14

33-35

Rice University

16

33-35

Washington University in St. Louis

16

33-35

Cornell University

18

32-35

University of Notre Dame

19

33-35

University of California–Los Angeles

20

31-35

 

Top 20 Liberal Arts Colleges

 

College Name

US News Ranking

Middle 50% ACT Range

Williams College

1

32-35

Amherst College

2

32-34

Swarthmore College

3

31-34

Pomona College

4

32-35

Wellesley College

4

31-34

Bowdoin College

6

32-34

Claremont McKenna College

6

31-34

United States Naval Academy

6

26-32

Carleton College

9

30-34

Hamilton College

9

31-34

Middlebury College

9

31-34

Washington and Lee University

9

31-34

Grinnell College

13

31-34

Vassar College

13

31-34

Colby College

15

32-35

Davidson College

15

30-34

Haverford College

15

32-34

Smith College

15

28-31

United States Military Academy

15

25-30

Colgate University

20

31-34

Wesleyan University

20

31-34

 

What to Do if Your Score Is Too Low

 

1. Study, study, study.

 

Focus on your weakest areas, based on your baseline practice test, to formulate your study plan. Make sure you set aside enough time to fit in practice sessions every day. We have plenty of resources to help you with your studying, too.

 

2. Take the test again.

 

Many college superscore, meaning that they will factor in only your highest section scores from different test sittings to form a new composite. Even if your schools don’t superscore, repeat testers generally do better and have an average composite score that’s 2.9 points higher than single-test takers. Still, you shouldn’t take the test more than 2-3 times. Your score is unlikely to improve after you take it a handful of times. 

 

If you’re not sure which schools superscore, review this list of colleges. Please also double-check with your school website, as policies are constantly changing.

 

3. Consider applying test-optional.

 

Because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many students from being able to take the ACT and SAT, many colleges have gone test-optional for at least this academic year. If you receive disappointing scores, then you do have the option of omitting them from your application.

 

At CollegeVine, we suggest submitting your ACT score if it falls within three points of the 25th percentile at your target school. (Overall test scores and superscores are likely to be lower during this admissions cycle because most students were unable to take the test more than once.) Otherwise, don’t send them, and focus on improving other aspects of your application, like essays.

 

Note that this applies to this admissions cycle only. Colleges may change their policies or otherwise change course depending on their experience with this admissions cycle and the pandemic.

 

Want to find out if you’re likely to be admitted to top schools? Using our Chancing Engine, which reviews your profile holistically, you can learn your real odds of admission to more than 500 colleges and universities. Best of all, it’s free!


Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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